Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims - June 26, 2010

CAMBODIA: Cambodia needs to take effective action to eliminate torture and improve policing

As the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is commemorated globally, the people of Cambodia continue to face serious problems relating to guaranteed rights against torture. As far as legislation is concerned, Cambodia has been a party to all UN conventions relating to civil rights and rights against torture. Recently, it also ratified the optional protocol relating to prevention of torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment. However, the common saying in Cambodia is that while all these documents are being signed, these have little practical value for the people.

Cambodia’s judicial and rule of law system are wholly inadequate to deal with this problem. In the recent visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Professor Surya Prasad Subedi, highlighted the inadequacies of the judicial system in Cambodia. Unfortunately, the only response to this from the country’s prime minister was "don't tell me it is raining when I am standing in the rain." His comments were interpreted by the media to mean, 'don’t state the obvious.' Clearly, the government shares the view that the country’s rule of law and judicial system are inadequate. However, there are no plans of any sort for the improvement of these systems.

As far as torture is concerned, Cambodia still does not have a proper definition of torture incorporated into its domestic legislation. The penal code recognizes torture as a crime, but it has not incorporated a clear definition of torture into its legal framework. It has been the recommendation of the CAT committee, as well as local and international human rights organizations, that the government should bring about legislation which incorporates a clear definition of torture. Without clear definitions, it is not possible for courts to properly implement the constitutional and penal code provisions relating to torture in Cambodia.

The problem of torture in Cambodia is similar to those in neighboring countries, and is rooted in Cambodia’s policing system which is seriously lacking in every way. Criminal investigations still use old methods and there has been no attempt to modernize the policing system of Cambodia. There have been no investments in the improvement of this system. The training of the police as well as the facilities available to the police are entirely inadequate for dealing with criminal investigations in a rational manner. The under-development of the policing system results in the constant use of coercion on people who are arrested by the police.

A characteristic of well-developed policing systems is to have a comprehensive system for receiving complaints against the police and dealing with such complaints in a satisfactory manner. In Cambodia, such a system of public complaints does not exist; it has not developed any internal controls to deal with complaints made against the policing institution. As such, the people have no avenues to make complaints.

The only limited avenue available involves making such complaints to the courts. However, when the alleged victims of torture make complaints, courts inquire from the victims as to whether they want to make a complaint against the police. At this stage, according to lawyers, the general reply of victims is that they do not wish to make any formal complaint. This is due to the fear of serious reprisals following the complaints. The complete absence of any kind of protection for those making complaints prevents people from making such complaints. Bitter experiences of the cruel systems that Cambodia has faced in its recent past act as a psychological and emotional barrier for making complaints. While Cambodia is committed to breaking away from its past, and the constitution itself recognizes this commitment, no measures have been taken to ensure protection for torture victims so that they can make complaints without fear of reprisals.

The deficient facilities of police stations and prisons mean that properly securing detainees is difficult, which further engenders torture. In police stations, there are no proper lockups, and as a result, people are often shackled to chairs by their legs or arms. Sometimes detainees are shackled for several months; a practice that is commonly discussed in Cambodia. This practice has evolved in order to prevent people from escaping. It is also common knowledge that people who make attempts to escape are punished severely. The development of adequate safeguards for arrested people is a primary need for the protection of victims and prevention of torture at police stations and detention centers.

Forensic pathology has not yet been introduced to Cambodia. Victims of torture are not been examined by doctors. The result is that no medical reports are made out on torture victims. The government of Cambodia and United nations agencies operating in Cambodia should collaborate in introducing medical and forensic facilities. Foreign donors should promote education of forensic pathologists. This will be a great contribution to prevention of torture as well as improvement of criminal investigations.

The Cambodian government has not acknowledged its duty for the compensation of victims of human rights abuses, including victims of torture. There is no possibility for victims to bring about suits so as to receive compensation for torture or cruel, inhuman treatment. Providing legal redress for torture remains a requirement that needs to be developed.

There are no facilities for psychological assistance, such as trauma counseling for torture victims. Some human rights organizations are attempting to provide such help by their own initiatives. However, due to inadequate support from the state and funding agencies, a system of providing psychological rehabilitation for victims has not been developed as yet.

Other inadequacies for the legal system for proper investigations into abuses, such as sexual harassment of women and children, are also serious flaws in the Cambodian legal system. In the absence of proper complaint and investigation mechanisms, many crimes are committed in this area and they go unaddressed. Thus, from the point of view of guaranteeing the rights of women and children, the government’s compliance with the convention against torture, cruel and inhuman treatment remains a necessity.

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